Pyser Testing

Indian variant

Government Adviser Says the Prevalence of Covid Variants Means “There’s a Very Strong Argument” for Vaccinating Children

Despite warnings from a wide range of health experts, including a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, against giving children Covid vaccines, it seems increasingly likely that Government’s across the U.K. will decide to include children in their vaccine roll-outs in the near future.

On Saturday, Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said that the prevalence of Covid variants means “there’s a very strong argument” for the vaccination of children. The MailOnline has more.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A lot of people are sitting on the fence about this but I think on balance I’m coming to the view that vaccination of children – there’s a very strong argument there.”

He said the vaccine was safe for children, while prolonged symptoms of coronavirus meant one in ten sufferers have not fully recovered.   

He added: “Originally with the Wuhan strain it didn’t seem there was very much amplification of the epidemic going on amongst people who were at school in contrast to what we know about influenza, where schools are often the major driver of spread. 

“But with these more transmissible variants it is evident that they are being transmitted much more amongst young adults and school children and even younger children and that seems perhaps to be a change in the biological quality of the infection. 

“It’s still fortunately not causing very high disease rates amongst those kids but it does strengthen the argument against vaccination.”

He said the Government “absolutely needs to have the discussion” as research proves the “safety and efficacy in terms of generating an antibody response in children”…

Meanwhile, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week approved Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds.

But no decision has yet been taken on whether to extend the rollout to under-18s once all adults have been offered a jab.

And there are now concerns in the U.S. that the Pfizer jab might have health risks for children that outweigh the benefits, with officials there fearing around 200 cases of heart damage among under-30s could have been linked to the jab.

The MHRA said it has not seen any such cases in the U.K. but the JCVI has advised that young adults or children should not be given the AstraZeneca jab unless it’s the only option because of a small blood clot risk.

The JCVI is expected to tell ministers the move to give jabs to children would be a “political decision”.

Worth reading in full.

If the Indian Variant Really is 60% More Infectious, Why is it So Tame in Other Countries?

The Government’s favoured modellers appear to have settled on a figure for the greater infectiousness of the Delta (Indian) variant: a spanking 60%. Reuters reports.

Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London told reporters that estimates of Delta’s transmission edge over Alpha had narrowed, and “we think 60% is probably the best estimate”.

Ferguson said that modelling suggested any third wave of infections could rival Britain’s second wave in the winter – which was fuelled by the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, south east England.

But it was unclear how any spike in hospitalisations would translate into a rise in deaths, as more detail was needed on how well the vaccine protects against serious illness from Delta.

“It’s well within possibility that we could see another third wave at least comparable in terms of hospitalisations,” he said.

“I think deaths probably would be lower, the vaccines are having a highly protective effect… still it could be quite worrying. But there is a lot of uncertainty.”

Ferguson isn’t the only one making such doom-laden predictions. The usually more sanguine Philip Thomas of Bristol University is also predicting an “enormous” third wave in the summer. It will be “far bigger than the second”, he says, because of the Delta variant. “There is no hiding place. Either you’ve had the virus or been vaccinated, or you are pretty likely to get Covid this summer.” Ah, so another model that doesn’t factor in prior immunity or T-cells. Professor Thomas writes:

Link Between Positive Covid Tests and Covid Deaths Has Been Broken, Says NHS Leader

The vaccine has broken the link between positive Covid tests and Covid deaths, according to the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, who last week criticised the scientific modelling seen by the Government through much of the pandemic as “crude” and unreliable. Chris says that viewed alone, the raw number of positive tests does not tell the full story: “It is a much younger population that is coming in [for hospital treatment now], they are less clinically vulnerable” and much easier to treat. The MailOnline has the story.

Chris Hopson… said today that the surge in cases and hospital admissions in the Greater Manchester town was manageable for its hospitals.

Patients were generally younger and less sick, he suggested, than in the crippling second wave over the winter, and the numbers of people coming in were lower and significantly fewer of them are dying.

Vaccines appear to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, Mr Hopson said, adding that they have broken the link between infections and “very high” levels of hospital admissions and deaths in earlier waves of the virus…

Bolton has been overtaken by nearby Blackburn as the country’s Covid hotspot after cases surged there driven by the Indian variant, which accounts for almost all infections in the town. Hospital admissions rose shortly after, to a peak of 49 people on wards with Covid and 14 admitted in a day, but these appear to be falling now, too, with 42 reported in patients on June 1st.

Mr Hopson said: “If – and it is a big if – if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if other areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.”

His comments come as pressure is building towards Boris Johnson’s speech next Monday when he is expected reveal whether June 21st’s “Freedom Day” end of social distancing will go ahead. Current trends look as though he will prolong lockdown laws for a few more weeks or until the summer holidays to buy more time for vaccinations.

Mr Hopson told Times Radio: “It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here… you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity [illness] they’ve got.

“What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is a significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures.

“So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.”

Worth reading in full.

“Minimise Travel” Advice Extended to Cover Millions More Brits

All people living in Greater Manchester and Lancashire are now advised to “minimise travel” due to fears over the Indian Delta Covid variant, though Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has told people not to cancel trips because of the new guidelines. The Government hopes to tackle the Delta strain with a “strengthened package of support”, focusing particularly on additional Covid testing. The Mirror has the story.

The Government’s Covid advice was updated today, to expand the areas advised to only travel in and out of the area if necessary.

At the end of May, the Government faced criticism after it updated guidance for people in Bedford, Blackburn and Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow, and North Tyneside, where the India variant had started to surge.

The information was posted in an online update at Gov.uk on May 21st but it was not accompanied by an official announcement. 

Today, the areas covered by the guidance were updated to include the Greater Manchester Combined Authority… and Lancashire County Council…

Asked about the change, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Health Secretary has talked about that in the House. 

“He wants to provide the package of support that has been effective in Bolton to a wider area, so that’s Greater Manchester and all of Lancashire County Council, to tackle the cases of the Delta variant.”

After the advice was updated, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “I can tell the House that today working with local authorities, we are providing a strengthened package of support based on what’s working in Bolton, to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire tackle the rise in the Delta variant that we’re seeing there.

“This includes rapid response teams, putting in extra testing, military support and supervised in-school testing. I want to encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer.”…

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham told locals not to cancel trips because of the new guidance. 

“It’s very important to keep a sense of proportion,” he told a press conference today. 

“This is guidance… it is not a lockdown, it is not a ban.”

Worth reading in full.

Matt Hancock Reveals Hospitalisation Rate of Indian Variant is Just 1% – Half that of the British Variant

Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed some statistics in the Commons yesterday about the Delta (Indian) variant: out of 12,383 Delta variant positive tests in the U.K. up to June 3rd, 464 went to emergency care and 126 were admitted to hospital. Of those admitted to hospital, 83 were unvaccinated, 28 had had one jab and three had had both doses.

Keen-eyed readers will spot that 83+28+3 is not 126 – there are 12 hospital admissions unaccounted for. A Department of Health source told the Financial Times‘s Sebastian Payne that nine of these “don’t match to a vaccine status at present” while three were within 21 days of their first dose so didn’t count in any category.

Can we use these figures to make some crude calculations of the severity of the Delta variant?

126 hospital admissions out of 12,383 positive tests gives a 1% hospitalisation rate, or 99% not needing hospital. How does this compare to the Alpha (British) variant?

Last week Public Health England (PHE) released a study claiming the Delta variant had around double the risk of serious disease or hospitalisation compared with the Alpha variant. However, according to the ONS, during the winter peak when the Alpha variant was dominant, around 2% of the population of England was infected with COVID-19 and around 0.04% of the population was being admitted to hospital with the virus each week, giving around 2% of British variant infections leading to hospital admission. This is double the rate for the Indian variant on Hancock’s figures – and furthermore, Hancock’s figures use positive cases, not an ONS population infection estimate, which would reduce the hospitalisation rate for the Indian variant further.

However, what we don’t know, because these are just statistics delivered verbally in Parliament not a proper report (more science-by-press-release), is how many of the 12,383 positive cases are too recent to have led yet to hospital admission. We also don’t know how elderly or vulnerable those in the sample of 12,383 are, or what impact the vaccines are making on the hospitalisation rate.

The figures are of limited use as well in estimating the effectiveness of the vaccines against hospital admission with the Delta variant. That’s because we don’t know what proportion of the 12,383 infected were vaccinated, so we can’t control for that key factor. Having said that, the three versus 83 hospital admissions for fully vaccinated versus unvaccinated seems encouraging.

Overall, this data is very limited. Nonetheless, the fact that the hospitalisation rate even among positive cases is so much lower with the Delta variant now than with the Alpha variant in winter is further evidence that the latest scariant is nothing to fear.

Hospital Admissions For Covid Continue to Fall in Scariant “Hotspot” Bolton

The number of people being admitted to hospital to be treated for Covid continues to fall in the former Indian Delta variant “hotspot” Bolton. The MailOnline has the story.

[The] latest NHS figures show there were 42 people in hospital in the Royal Bolton Hospital with the virus on June 1st, last Tuesday, down from 49 at the peak of the new variant scare a week earlier.

The number of people being admitted to hospital each day has tumbled, too, to just three on May 30 compared to 14 five days before. The numbers are trailing a decline in cases which appears to show a spike in new variant cases has come under control.

The same pattern is hopefully beginning to unfold in neighbouring Blackburn, the U.K.’s current hotspot which has also been hit by the Indian “Delta” strain, where infection numbers among over-60s have started to fall following a rise.

Although the borough’s infection rate was still rising at the end of May, a decline in infections among older people should help officials to keep hospital admissions and deaths under control.

More than 12,000 cases of the B.1.617.2 variant have been spotted so far in the U.K. and Public Health England last week admitted for the first time that it has become the most common variant in Britain. Almost one in five officially recorded cases – 2,149 – have been in Bolton, with another 724 in Blackburn with Darwen.

But the fact that Bolton has turned the tide of the super-infectious strain suggests it can be successfully controlled without lockdowns, instead using testing, contact tracing and vaccinations.

Covid hospital admissions started rising in Bolton in the first week of May around 10 days after cases began to rise – it can take several weeks for infected patients to become ill enough to need medical care…

Its coronavirus infection rate spiked 10-fold from just 44 cases per 100,000 people in the week ending April 22nd to a peak of 453 per 100,000 a month later on May 21st.

Cases have been most common in under-55s, who are least likely to have had two doses of a vaccine, but hospital admissions rose in the wake of the rocketing cases. Only a small fraction of patients had been fully vaccinated.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week admitted the link between infections and hospital admissions, which vaccines should separate, has so far been “broken but not completely severed”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: According to the Prime Minister’s spokesman, quoted in the Guardian, “[it] still remains that there is nothing in the data currently to suggest step four [of the lockdown roadmap] can’t go ahead at the earliest date”.

But we do need to look very closely at the data over this coming week, which will be crucial to decide and really to get a sense of the data, particularly on hospitalisations and whether or not the excellent vaccine rollout programme has sufficiently severed that link between the increase in cases, which we always expected to happen, particularly after step three, and that subsequently leading to hospitalisations and deaths.

Worth reading in full.

More Scaremongering From PHE About the “Twice as Deadly” Indian Variant

Infections are on the rise according to the ONS and, despite the vaccines (and the fact that fully-open U.S. states continue not to see a rise in infections let alone the prophesied mass hospitalisations and deaths), talk has once again turned to keeping restrictions going beyond June 21st. Portugal has been brutally struck from the green list, ruining the holidays of tens of thousands of Brits. Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, has suggested social distancing could continue for the rest of the year.

Driving the fear is the Delta (Indian) variant, which new data from Public Health England suggests could have more than double the risk of hospitalisation compared to the Alpha (British) variant. The Guardian reports:

An analysis of 38,805 sequenced cases in England revealed that the Delta [Indian] variant was associated with a 2.61 times higher risk of hospitalisation within 14 days of specimen date than the Alpha [British] variant. There was a 1.67 times higher risk of A&E care within 14 days. These figures take into account factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, area of residence and vaccination status.

It appears PHE has been up to its usual tricks again though. While the data adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity and so on might produce these alarming results, the raw data tells the opposite story. Here’s the relevant table with some key figures highlighted:

SAGE Member Says We Must Learn to Live with Covid without the Restrictions

SAGE member and Director of the Wellcome Trust Sir Jeremy Farrar says lockdowns are “awful” – citing their effects on mental health, education and job opportunities, to name a few – and that Brits must learn to live with Covid without restrictions. Sir Jeremy is “optimistic” that lockdown will end on June 21st, however, he believes that guidelines on restrictive measures such as mask-wearing should remain past this date. The Mail has the story.

Sir Jeremy… said the measures had had “very profound consequences” on the nation’s mental health, education and jobs.

But he was hopeful that the Government would be able to open up on June 21st based on the data so far – but stressed the next few weeks would be “crucial”.

He pointed out that more than eight in 10 adults would be vaccinated by then, adding that he was “very confident” the jabs were working.

“There is a danger of not opening up and this infection is now a human endemic infection. It’s not going away,” he said. “Humanity will live with this virus now forever. And there will be new variants. This year, next year, the year after, there will be new variants – and we will have to learn to cope with that.

“Lockdowns are awful. They are a mark that you haven’t been able to control the virus in other ways. They have very profound consequences on mental health, on education, on job opportunities particularly affecting people on lower incomes.

“Societies can’t stay in that mode forever.”

Earlier this week Boris Johnson said that while there was nothing in the data to suggest the June 21st ending of lockdown could not go ahead, the numbers were “still ambiguous”.

But Sir Jeremy said he was hopeful the jabs had “separated” the inevitable rise of infections which comes with easing restrictions and the subsequent increase in hospitalisations.

Asked whether he thought the country would be able to open up on June 21st, he added: “If you really push me today, I would say I’m more optimistic because I think that the vaccines have been so incredibly successful.”

He added that based on current data, although he would lift restrictions, sensible advice such as wearing a mask indoors should still be in place.

Sir Jeremy also said: “If hospitalisations have remained low and deaths have remained low, I would accept a degree of transmission and I would open up.

“I think this is the hardest decision, frankly, of the last 18 months actually. I am optimistic in the sense that I do believe that vaccines are incredibly safe and very effective.”

Worth reading in full.

Wales Takes Super Cautious Approach to Easing Lockdown Restrictions

Restrictions on outdoor gatherings will be relaxed in Wales from Monday, but indoor events have been left on hold due to concerns about the Indian Delta Covid variant, despite the country having the highest vaccination rate in the U.K. The Guardian has the story.

Up to 30 people will be able to meet outdoors and large outdoor activities can resume in Wales from Monday, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has announced.

The size of extended households can be increased to up to three households and a further household with a single adult or single adult with caring responsibilities will also be able to join.

Drakeford said the move to alert level one would be phased, with outdoor events opening first. Ministers will review the public health situation again, before June 21st, to determine whether indoor events can restart.

The first minister said the two-stage approach would enable more people to be vaccinated – and complete their two-dose course – amid growing concerns about the spread of the Delta variant across the U.K.

Of the 12,431 cases of the variant first detected in India thus far confirmed in the U.K., 97 are in Wales compared with 10,797 in England, 1,511 in Scotland and 26 in Northern Ireland.

Drakeford said: “The emergence of the Delta variant shows the pandemic is not over yet and we all need to continue to take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

Worth reading in full.

Time to “Move on” with Ending Lockdown, Says Government Adviser Sir John Bell

Sir John Bell says it is time to “move on” with ending lockdown, given that the numbers are no longer “too intimidating”. The Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and member of the expert advisory group to the Vaccine Taskforce added that it would be wrong to “scamper down a rabbit hole” every time a new variant emerges because Covid “is here to stay probably forever“. The MailOnline has more.

Hitting back at members of SAGE calling for a longer lockdown, Sir John Bell said ministers must instead focus on hospitalisations and deaths [rather than on variants and cases], which have remained flat nationally but there are signs of admissions increasing.  

The Oxford University medical expert, who has advised the Government on Covid tests and vaccines, suggested the country must take a leap of faith and put trust in its world-beating vaccination rollout…

Sir John becomes the highest-profile adviser to call for ministers to stick with the roadmap and bring an end to social distancing laws on June 21st’s “Freedom Day”.

His comments come as pressure mounts on Boris Johnson to push the date back to buy time to roll out jabs to millions more people to defend against the Indian variant.

New Covid cases have now been above 3,000 for seven consecutive days in the U.K. but the country yesterday reported zero new deaths for the first time since July 2020, bolstering calls for Number 10 to push ahead with plans to get back to normal…

Sir [John] told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we do need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths, which is really what we are trying to manage.

“If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away – so I think we need to get a bit of balance into the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease we are trying to prevent.”

The Oxford expert also urged ministers to back rolling out the vaccine in other nations, to get outbreaks under control and reduce the risk of vaccine-busting variants emerging. 

Sir John’s intervention comes as Boris Johnson faces mounting pressure to delay England’s June 21st Freedom Day, with some scientists warning rising cases could spark “Covid volcanoes” in hospitals.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Prime Minister says there is still “nothing in the data at the moment that means we cannot go ahead with Step Four” of the roadmap out of lockdown, but believes the “data is still ambiguous“.